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Deputy D.A.: D'Agostino Asked Him to Alter Story

March 11, 1987|From Associated Press

The former prosecutor in the "Twilight Zone" manslaughter trial accused the current prosecutor Tuesday of pressuring him to change his story to save the case.

"If you think I would commit perjury for this case, you've got the wrong guy," Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Kesselman said he told Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino.

Kesselman, who yielded the case to D'Agostino last year, adamantly contradicted the testimony of her key witness, Donna Schuman, who has accused Kesselman of plotting to withhold evidence from the defense.

Kesselman, testifying before jurors for the first time in the 6-month-old trial, spilled out details of the dispute that erupted in the district attorney's office after Schuman made her claims last September.

He said D'Agostino confronted him after Schuman testified that director John Landis and associate producer George Folsey mentioned the possibility that they could go to jail for using children on the movie set without permits.

Landis, Folsey, production manager Dan Allingham, special-effects supervisor Paul Stewart and helicopter pilot Dorcey Wingo are charged with involuntary manslaughter in a helicopter crash that killed actor Vic Morrow, 53, and two children, Myca Dinh Le, 7, and Renee Chen, 6, in July, 1982, while filming "Twilight Zone: The Movie."

Schuman, whose testimony was critical in establishing the attitude of the film makers, had not made the same statements to the grand jury or at the preliminary hearing in the case.

Kesselman insisted under oath Tuesday that the witness never mentioned the statements to him but said D'Agostino wanted him to say she had.

"Mrs. D'Agostino said to me: 'Come on, Gary, you know Donna Schuman told you that,' " he testified. "I said, 'Lea, the problem is she didn't.' "

He said the confrontation took place in D'Agostino's office.

"She got up and closed the door, and she said: 'It's just the two of us in the office.' I'm not going to use the histrionics, but she was very agitated,' " he said.

"She said, 'You're not important; I'm not important. Schuman is not important. The only thing that's important is this case.'

"I said, 'Lea, if you think I would commit perjury for this case, you've got the wrong guy,' " Kesselman testified.

As he bolted from her office, Kesselman said he heard her say, " 'Don't commit perjury the other way.' "

He said he began searching for his notes on his interviews with the witness to refresh his memory when he received another call from D'Agostino. "Mrs. D'Agostino appeared to be very upset," he said.

She told him she had talked to the witness's husband, Harold Schuman, a psychiatrist, he said.

"She said, 'Dr. Schuman says Donna is a witness, and you have to protect a witness. What's this about having to look for your notes?' She said, 'He's a head doctor. He'll help you remember.' "

"I said, 'That's enough. That's enough,' " Kesselman said. "I never talked to Mrs. D'Agostino again after that day."

D'Agostino, who frequently objected during Kesselman's testimony, said she has not decided whether to cross-examine him or have another prosecutor handle that part of the case.

Asked if he ever told his supervisors that he believed he had been threatened by D'Agostino, Kesselman responded: "Yes."

In September, Schuman set off a controversy that rocked the trial when she testified that Kesselman told her he was withholding certain evidence from the defense until the time of trial. Kesselman was called to the witness stand with jurors absent and denied he had discussed withholding anything--thus, in effect, calling the prosecution's star witness a liar.

D'Agostino stood behind Schuman and implied that it was Kesselman who was lying. The dispute shook the district attorney's office and led to repeated meetings in which Kesselman reportedly was discouraged from talking to defense attorneys about the matter.

He apparently relented and met with them before testifying Tuesday.

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